Mr. Show

Addicted to decadence, in love with excess: The films of Fosse

Fosse also intimately understood the interplay of sex and fame. Each set of auditions provided the opportunity for a fling, but Fosse recognized that his allure largely owed to his rising star. It makes sense, then, that Fosse made Star 80, an exploration of sex as a power commodity, even if it is not remotely his best work. The film explores the true story of Dorothy Stratten (Mariel Hemingway), a naive Canadian girl discovered in a Dairy Queen who became 1980's Playmate of the Year. It's an altogether sordid tale that Fosse mines, fruitlessly, for its glamour potential.

Stratten's guide to the Playboy lifestyle is husband Paul Snider (a genuinely disturbing Eric Roberts), a small-time hustler who idolizes Hugh Hefner. As Stratten succeeds, Snider stumbles. Even Hef thinks he's nothing more than a pimp. Stratten eventually leaves Snider for a film director (in real life, Peter Bogdanovich, who refused to cooperate with Fosse). Snider murders and rapes Stratten, then kills himself, as Fosse replays one of Hollywood's most notorious crimes.

Star 80 is the director's most controversial work. Some will be repulsed by Stratten's perpetual objectification, and the ending is extremely violent. Much of the film was shot in the actual apartment where Stratten died, suggesting a morbid fascination on Fosse's part. Still others have hailed the director for showing all sides of the story, unflinchingly portraying the dynamics of domestic abuse, and laying guilt with the many parties who profited from an impressionable young woman's beauty. As in Lenny, Fosse employs a mock documentary style with actors portraying figures in Stratten's life. Yet Star 80 lacks Lenny's sophistication, and its stilted dialogue combined with its urgent sensationalism play, more often than not, like a Lifetime movie.

Siegfried, meet Roy...Scheider: Ben Vereen and friend do it to death in 'All That Jazz'
20th Century Fox
Siegfried, meet Roy...Scheider: Ben Vereen and friend do it to death in 'All That Jazz'


Fosse was aware of his personal drawbacks and even celebrated them, comparing his character to a Broadway production. "I'm still working on my life," he stated. "Just like it's out of town, and when I get it fixed, I'll bring it in." With All That Jazz Fosse glamorized his life but also offered a mea culpa for his many mistakes. Set during the mid-1970s, the film re-creates Fosse's experience of suffering a heart attack while preparing for Chicago. Although he recovered, Fosse became obsessed with his demise. Roy Scheider, Fosse's doppelgänger, portrays--surprise!--Joe Gideon, a Broadway choreographer and film director, who is opening a show, editing a movie about a standup comedian, sleeping around, ignoring his daughter, smoking and drinking too much, and having heart troubles.

Several of the big numbers make one wonder how Fosse finagled the budget for such an unabashed, ego-driven spectacle. But, thankfully, he did. Particularly noteworthy are an erotic rehearsal, an impromptu performance by Reinking (playing the girlfriend) in full Fosse form, a Busby Berkeley-style fan dance, a hilarious montage of hospital-room parties, and the spectacular finale with another Fosse vet, Ben Vereen, singing "Bye Bye Love" to a heavenly studio audience. All That Jazz received nine Oscar nominations and won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. It also proved that Fosse, who proclaimed that he didn't fear death, really did want to live, if only so he could keep topping himself. But death, like a Broadway show's closing, is inevitable. And so the film gave Fosse--the ultimate control freak--an unprecedented opportunity: the chance to direct his own funeral.

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